IOWA CITY, Ia. Those demons, purple and pesky, were exorcised Saturday.
“Yeah, for at least a day,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said.
A day that went to overtime with two desperate teams trying to take a big step toward bowl eligibility. A day when Iowa beat Northwestern in overtime 17-10, to change the ending to a much-too-painful script.
Déjà vu, all over again? That’s where we were headed. Northwestern had fallen behind by double digits and came back to win in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
And in 2011, Iowa had a 17-0 lead, Northwestern tied it and then the Hawkeyes scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to win.
So when Iowa’s 10-0 halftime lead disappeared in the second half Saturday, and Northwestern had the ball first-and-10 at the Hawkeyes’ 30 with less than 4 minutes to play, we appeared headed for another mystifying, sobering Iowa loss.
“I was nervous there in the fourth quarter,” Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz admitted. “I’m sure everyone was.”
It got worse when quarterback Kain Colter scrambled for nine yards to the 21. But Dan Vitale was called a for a chop block, which had no bearing on the outcome of the play but might have been the game’s turning point.
More after the video
It moved Northwestern back to the Iowa 45, first-and-25. On the very next play, Mike Trumpy mishandled Colter’s pitch, Iowa’s Desmond King recovered and the Hawkeyes had second life.
The well-worn story was rewritten after an 8-yard Jake Rudock to Fiedorowicz touchown pass to start overtime. Then Iowa’s suddenly stingy defense didn’t allow a first down on four plays.
Louis Trinca-Pasat wrapped up Colter on a fourth-and-8, and the celebration was on.
“Just elation, relief, excitement,” senior linebacker James Morris said. “All those things wrapped into one. Just euphoria. You saw everybody running around, like they had won the lottery. It was just an awesome feeling.”
The best feeling since a double overtime victory at Michigan State last season … which was followed by six straight losses. That forgettable 4-8 season in 2012 included losses to Iowa State and Northwestern – teams that seemed to play the game with a motivational edge missing from the Iowa camp.
Iowa State? That’s obvious, an in-state rival and all. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald broke his leg against Iowa in 1995, and always seems to use that unfortunate event as personal motivation. In 2010, one of his players told media members that Fitzgerald hated Iowa.
Why, people wondered, didn’t Ferentz respond with some emotional response on game week? Apparently, he has. Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens, turning in one of the best games of his career, noticed a change in Ferentz.
“There was a little pep in our step this week,” Hitchens said. “This one and Iowa State. We knew (Northwestern) was going to come out and give us their best shot. That’s the type of team they are. I guess they don’t like us. I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
Iowa, picked to win one Big Ten game by many preseason prognosticators, improved to 2-2 and 5-3 overall. Improvement, yes, but this team still needs to learn to bring the offense with it out of the locker room at halftime.
The Hawkeyes have led all eight games at halftime this season. In its three losses, Iowa has outscored teams 55-37 in the first half, been outscored 53-10 in the second half. And a 10-0 halftime lead Saturday looked everything like a fourth loss was on its way after the Wildcats tied it.
That’s not going to cut it down the stretch. But Saturday’s overtime win should provide a dose of confidence if nothing else.
“You know, there’s not a lot of great things that come out of losing,” Ferentz said. “Not a lot of bad that comes out of winning, either.”
As they crossed paths in a hallway outside the Iowa locker room, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillps stopped and hugged his Iowa counterpart, Gary Barta.
“I’m happy for you,” Phillips told Barta.
The demons had been exorcised. At least for now.
“They’re a team we’ve struggled with in the past,” Morris said. “I guess you could say it feels extra good.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter, @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football